Interdisciplinary majors are those that inherently fuse two or more traditional areas of study (Biomedical engineering, Global Affairs, South Asian Studies) On the other hand, Multidisciplinary or Cross-disciplinary majors tend to externally combine different areas of study (Computer Science and Psychology; Mathematics and Philosophy; Physics and Geosciences).
The concept of an inter/multidisciplinary major may be new to you since most Indian curriculums ask students to major or specialize in a singular subject area. A lot of interdisciplinary studies in India open doors to students only at the Master’s or Graduate level. But, what if you could get a chance to start as early as your first year of undergraduate program? Enter US universities.
Most US colleges and universities offer these majors. Interdisciplinary majors were born as a necessity to study certain skills and knowledge owing to social movements, technological advancements, environmental issues, and global politics to list a few. There is certainly a demand for those with interdisciplinary knowledge and skills.
Another fascinating offering by US universities is the chance to create your own major since you could be an ardent lover of astrophysics, but also art history. This academic freedom is hard to come by, in Indian or UK universities.
Should you opt for an interdisciplinary major?
Interdisciplinary majors are chosen by those students who are sure about their interests and paradoxically enough, those who aren’t.
For instance –
Some of our students are interested in Computer Science but have also worked long hours in a biology lab and love research. Since they are unsure of which one they would like to pursue further, they are likely to opt for a major in Computational Biology or Bioinformatics.
Few others would sign up for an interdisciplinary major for better job prospects such as the increasing demand for CS in healthcare.
Below I have quoted highly selective universities on their interdisciplinary offerings –
1. International Relations
“International Relations is an interdisciplinary undergraduate major that studies the interaction of actors in international politics, including states and non-state actors, such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, Amnesty International and other NGOs. Topics of study include foreign policy; international conflict and negotiation; war, peace, and international security; terrorism; international trade and economics; human rights, ethics, and humanitarianism; climate change and environmental issues; among others. International relations’ broad scope requires an interdisciplinary approach, drawing upon the fields of political science, economics, history, sociology, data science, law, foreign languages, and other fields.”
2. Computational Biology
“How do we read genomes from millions of tiny fragments of DNA? How do we compare genes from across species as they have evolved and build a “tree of life”? How can we track the spread of a deadly virus around the planet? How do we measure how your genes differ across different cells in your body, and how are these measurements implicated in disease? Why has your body evolved to have modular components? And how do we look to nature for inspiration about how to solve practical computational problems?”
3. Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
“Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies is an interdisciplinary major in which students, in consultation with their advisors, craft a course of study focusing on the social construction of gender as a category of analysis within the broader matrix of race, class, ethnicity, and sexual identity. The core of the major is an individually designed concentration consisting of four courses. The concentration should be a well-focused area of study that requires an interdisciplinary approach. Recent and potential concentration topics include for example:
Art & Activism
Feminist Science & Technology Studies
Gender, Race and Health
International Gender and Human Rights
Sexualities and the Law
Technologies of Self
When students declare the major, they are assigned to an advisor who will then work with them to design a concentration.”
4. Computing and the Arts
“C2 the Creative Consilience of Computing and the Arts at Yale – explores the linking of computer science and information technology with creativity and artistic achievement. It employs rigorous, formal methods to analyze artistically motivated problems and enhance understanding of traditional artistic endeavors. It promotes digital technologies as tools of artistic expression. It also informs new computational algorithms and information systems with creative approaches and novel insights. The goal of the initiative is to add a new component to Yale’s leadership in the arts and provide new opportunities in computer science education and research that are currently unavailable elsewhere.”
The best part of an inter/multidisciplinary major? It allows you to zoom out and make these amazing connections between different disciplines and helps you view the world through a 360-degree lens. While interdisciplinary majors do benefit from dipping their toes in two or many fields, finding a job that matches the niche you have carved for yourself can be slightly challenging in a few cases. At the same time, this very niche can also help find a long-term job that you truly love.
Don’t worry if you are contemplating opting for an inter/multidisciplinary major, because colleges offer support systems in the form of peer advisors and skilled career counselors to help you understand career prospects open to you. The onside is that job requirements are evolving too – employers are now looking for candidates who have a well-rounded background and understanding of the changing landscapes. Imagine being a Computer Scientist who is able to consider the ethical/moral implications of creating a product. He/she/they are going to be more desirable to the company hiring computer scientists, rather than someone completely alienated from human thought and interactions.
On the other hand, if you would like to delve deeper into two or more fields, you always have the option to double or triple major. Last resort: you can also change your major which is possible for most majors at most universities!